E-book readers such as the Kindle and Nook have become popular thanks to the convenience of carrying an entire library's worth of books on one device. But if you don't have room in your budget for a Kindle, fret not: Your Android phone can serve as a capable and pocket-size e-reader in its own right. Google has joined the e-publishing fray with its Google Books service, and now the Google Books app for Android brings the vast Google Books catalog to your phone.
The app hooks into your Google account, so your Google Books library will automatically sync as you add books to it. You can save the books to an SD Card to free up device memory. If you don't have a Google Books library yet, the app will start you out with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. These classics and millions of other books are available for free because of expired copyrights.
You can also purchase new e-books using Google Checkout, a shopping service associated with your Google account. For your first purchase you must enter your credit card number and other data; but since subsequent purchases reuse your stored information, the transactions are very easy to complete.
The app is pretty limited in features. Some out-of-print books exist only as scans, photographic representations of the original. These books can be difficult to read and navigate -- but on the other hand, they probably offer the only feasible way to access certain rare or out-of-print titles. Other books may have a functional table of contents and easy-to-read type; it just depends on the book. The more famous works of literature seem to be better supported in navigation and font clarity.
You can add to your library by pressing the Get ebooks button. Browse by category, or do a search by title, author, or keyword. I was surprised at the poor quality of the search results, given Google's Web-search expertise. I often had to do quite a bit of digging to find what I wanted, even when I supplied the author's name. Hint to Google: If I run a search on an author's name, it's a safe bet that I want to see books written by that person, not a bunch of random junk that may contain an incidental mention of the person's name.
Unlike Amazon's Kindle app (which has improved a lot since I first reviewed it), the Google Books app does not let you bookmark or annotate pages, nor can you select text and look up its definition. In fact, the Kindle app provides a superior interface.
The main draw of the Google Books app is its seamless integration with your Google account and Google Checkout. That's a nice convenience, but Google Books doesn't compete well with other e-reader apps when it comes to features. I expect more of Google, and I'm hoping that this app will improve with updates.
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